Walter Cunningham, the last surviving NASA astronaut from the Apollo 7 mission in 1968, has died. He was 90 years old.
NASA confirmed that Cunningham died in Houston early Tuesday morning.
“NASA will always remember the contribution our country has made to the space program and offers its condolences to the Cunningham family,” space agency director Bill Nelson said in a statement. Said.
Cunningham’s family also honored the late astronaut posthumously, expressing “deeply proud of the life he lived and our deep gratitude to the man he was a patriot, explorer, pilot, astronaut, husband, brother, and father.”
“The world has lost another true hero and we will miss him terribly.”
Al Fenn/Getty Apollo 7 astronauts, (LR) Walter Cunningham, Donn Eisele and Walter Schirra
RELATED: NASA Launches Artemis 1 Mission That Paves the Way for Astronauts’ Return to the Moon
One of three astronauts on the first successful crewed space mission, Cunningham first joined NASA in 1963. Cunningham joined the program with US Navy Captain Walter M. Schirra, Jr. and joined as a civilian at the time, along with US air force major Donn F. Eisele. . About 11 days later, the famous Apollo 7 mission paved the way for the first human landing on the Moon.
Born on March 16, 1932, in Creston, Iowa, Cunningham completed his high school education at Venice High School in California. He later graduated from the University of California with honors in physics in 1960 and received his Master of Arts degree in physics in 1961 with honors. A few years later, in 1974, he earned a doctorate in physics, apart from a thesis. in the Advanced Management Program at Harvard Graduate School of Business.
David Becker / Getty
In 1951, Cunningham joined the Navy and was active in the U.S. Marine Corps before rising to the rank of colonel when he retired. In addition to being a scientist, he also worked as a night fighter pilot in Korea and had accumulated more than 4,500 hours of flight before joining NASA. According to the agency, he was selected as an astronaut in 1963 as part of NASA’s third class of astronauts.
Cunningham and other members of the Apollo 7 mission won a special Emmy for their daily reports from space. He retired from NASA in 1971 and continued to serve in the private sector in diverse roles such as executive, entrepreneurial consultant, and radio talk show host.
RELATED VIDEO: NASA’s Webb Telescope Captures Incredible Never-Before-Seen View of Pillars of Creation
In a 1999 interview with NASA’s Office of Oral History, Cunningham discussed his inspirations for his career path.
Don’t miss any stories — sign up PEOPLE’s free daily newsletter From engaging celebrity news to engaging human stories, to stay up to date with the best PEOPLE has to offer.
“I’m one of those people who never looks back. I only remember someone asking me that after I became an astronaut,” Cunningham said at the time.
“All I remember is keeping my nose to the grinding stone and trying to do my best – I didn’t realize it at the time, but that’s because I always wanted to be better prepared for the next step. I’ve always looked to the future. I don’t live in the past.”